Living inside Brazil’s largest apartment complex amid a pandemic

As the Brazilian president denies the death toll from COVID-19, the Copan building has taken its own measures to halt the crisis

Story and Photographs by As told to

The Copan building in São Paulo, Brazil, looks like a wave. It reminds me of the tilde that sits on the “a” in “São Paulo.” With 1,160 apartments, the massive concrete structure is the largest residential building in Latin America. It even has its own Zip code. Designed as a social experiment in the 1950s, the city-sized building now offers an up-close look at how a metropolis of 21 million is coping with isolation during the coronavirus pandemic.

São Paulo is the epicenter of the outbreak in Brazil. As of April 15, 28,320 Brazilians have been infected with COVID-19 and 1,736 have died. Of those who perished, nearly 800 were from São Paulo state. Like other countries, the lack of testing here means the number of cases is likely much higher. A new study estimates there are likely seven times more cases in Brazil than have been officially reported. The country’s health minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, has warned that the public health system could collapse by the end of April.

I spent the last two decades covering Latin America as a photographer. I came to São Paulo late last year and now am under a mandatory quarantine along with the rest of the city’s residents. When I heard about the Copan and its history, I knew it was a world I wanted to understand. So I rented one of the apartments and spent eight days photographing and getting to know the people who call it home. Before I moved in, I isolated myself in my apartment for 20 days and while there I followed strict safety protocols.

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